Lady Bird—The Importance of Endings
Endings can make or break stories.
Lady Bird is the 2017 directorial debut of Greta Gerwig. The movie is an amazing mix of humor and gut-wrenching conflict between a mother and her teenage daughter. It is a remarkable tour de force when, from the beginning scene to the ending one, the director can make us laugh or cry, seemingly at will. The critics felt it was almost perfect, giving it a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences were also enthusiastic with a 79%.
Although differences between critics and viewers are not unheard of, 20% is still a big chunk of change. Why are the critics are saying, ‘omg, to die for’, and viewers are saying, ‘yeah, very good’? I have a theory about why this happened.
Endings can make or break a piece
I want to emphasize that this is a movie well worth seeing. It is a triumph of acting and direction. But I have to say, I think the ending was in the wrong place.
Near the close of the movie, her parents drive Lady Bird (played by Saoirse Ronan) to the airport so she can return to university. Her mother is not talking to her and it makes for an uncomfortable ride. She drops them off at the curb without saying good-bye, and drives away, presumably to find parking. However, it becomes clear that the mother (played by Laurie Metcalf) is distressed by the leaving. She turns the car around so she can run to the gate. But Lady Bird has already boarded.
This is where I think the movie should have ended.
Instead, it goes on for a while longer. The last scene is Lady Bird calling home to tell her mother she loves her.
Why does this matter?
Well, the actual ending left me flat. All this tortured drama and all we get is a voice-mail message? The strength of the ending did not match the strength of the material leading up to it.
The problem with weak endings is that it can, as I think it did with this movie, leave the viewer with an unsatisfied feeling. They can change the perception of the piece from omg, to die for—which the movie largely deserves—to okay, nice movie. Because it was not a strong ending, the whole thing seems to drop in value. I think this is what audiences picked up although perhaps not at a conscious level.
Admittedly, there is a problem with where I think the movie should have ended. The traditional story arc assumes that the main character changes or moves forward in her understanding of life. In my suggestion, it would be the mother and not Lady Bird who has that epiphany.
But in the actual ending, Lady Bird’s life-changing realization is not as well-portrayed or as riveting as her mother’s. And leaving a voice-mail saying she loved her mother is without the power of her mother’s change.
As I have mentioned in other posts, the reader/viewer has certain expectations of a story of which they may be unaware. Because it is not a reader’s job to analyze the writing but simply to enjoy it, the disappointment of these assumptions can be expressed as ‘yeah, good movie’ rather than ‘yeah, fabulous movie’ which is what it actually deserved.
So, how can you be alert to the need for an ending to your story which is satisfying and at the same level of intensity as the rest of your piece? Next post.